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Common shoulder injuries and conditions

Overview of common shoulder injuries and conditions

The shoulder is a complex joint consisting of three different bones and a variety of soft tissues. Injury to one or more of these structures is common and affects millions of people every year.

Orthopedic doctors at Dignity Health provide expert healing and compassionate care for a wide variety of injuries and conditions of the shoulder. If you’ve been referred to a specialist for a shoulder injury, Find a Doctor near you.


Pain is a symptom of just about every shoulder problem. The pain can range from dull and achy to sharp and severe. The specific location of pain within the shoulder can help your doctor diagnose the problem.

Along with shoulder pain, other signs and symptoms include stiffness, weakness, and an inability to rotate or raise your arm through a normal range of movement. Your shoulder may also feel loose, like it could pop or slide out of place. For fractures and dislocations, the shoulder may appear deformed.


The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the entire body, which is a good thing because without this mobility, we would not be able to throw, catch, or lift our arms above our heads. Unfortunately, as joint flexibility increases, so does susceptibility to injury.

The shoulder has many moving parts that can be injured. It includes three bones: the upper arm bone (humerus), the shoulder blade (scapula), and the collarbone (clavicle). It also has cartilage and other soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The shoulder also houses nerves and fluid-filled sacs called bursa.

In most cases, shoulder problems result from soft tissue injury or disease. Overuse from repetitive motion during work, sports, or hobbies are common causes of these soft tissue problems. Bone injuries of the shoulder, such as fractures, are also relatively common, and usually result from trauma such as falls or vehicle crashes.

Osteoarthritis of the shoulder is a degenerative disease of the joint marked by the breakdown of cartilage and other damage. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease of the bones and cartilage that can flare up in the shoulder. Both of these types of arthritis can affect the shoulder joint and cause pain or damage over time.


Some of the most common shoulder conditions are:

  • Arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Bursitis
  • Dislocated shoulder joint
  • Fractures of the bones that make up the shoulder joint
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Impingement syndrome
  • Labral tears
  • Shoulder instability
  • Rotator cuff tear

Risk factors

Shoulder injuries are most frequently caused by overuse. Common scenarios where this occurs include:

  • Participation in contact sports or sports where throwing or repetitive overhead motion is required, including swimming, football, racquet sports, baseball, softball, sailing, gymnastics, martial arts, climbing, or weightlifting
  • Working a job where repetitive motion is required, such as assembly line manufacturing
  • Participating in activities at home such as painting


Shoulder injuries are typically accidental, but here are some ways you can avoid them:

  • Do not try to “play through” an injury: rest when you first feel pain
  • Use proper ergonomics when undertaking repetitive tasks
  • Avoid over-training
  • Use caution when engaging in higher-risk sports
  • Include accessory (smaller) muscles that protect your joints in your strength training, if recommended by your doctor
  • Maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise, as recommended by your doctor
  • Always warm up before activity and stretch afterward

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.